COLUMBUS, Ohio – A national liberal organization challenged Ohio’s recently approved congressional redistricting maps in a lawsuit filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, contending the new “gerrymandered” maps violate redistricting reforms added to the Ohio Constitution in 2018.
The National Redistricting Action Fund affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee said the map passed last week in the Ohio General Assembly “unduly favors the Ohio Republican Party” and minimizes the political power of Democrats, particularly minorities.
In the November 22 lawsuit, NRAF Director of Litigation and Policy Marina Jenkins contends the new congressional districts violate both the letter and the spirit of the state’s 2018 reforms calling for bipartisan cooperation in the creation of congressional maps.
“That Ohio’s new map, signed into law by (Ohio) Governor (Mike) DeWine on Saturday, is a partisan gerrymander in violation of the state constitution is quite clear,” Jenkins said in a news release. ” This map comes directly on the heels of an overwhelming statement of Ohio’s voters that they want fair redistricting – yet (the approved map) is even more gerrymandered than the egregious 2011 map.”
She added, “Ohioans deserve a new, fair congressional map that accurately reflects the people and competitive nature of Ohio. This is not it.”
The National Democratic Redistricting Committee is led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., who serves as the organization’s chairman.
Several states are locked in contentious redistricting battles, intensified by Republican efforts to take back the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2022 mid-term elections.
The Ohio lawsuit names 14 Ohio voters from throughout the state as plaintiffs.
Defendants consist of all members of the commission: Republicans DeWine, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Ohio Auditor Keith Faber, Ohio House Speaker Robert Cupp (R-Lima) and Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima); and Democrats Ohio Senator Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) and Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron).
The effort for a 10-year map stalled with a deficient effort by the Republican leadership in the House and Senate to work through the Ohio Redistricting Commission on a bipartisan plan as called for in the 2018 constitutional reforms.
Ohio House Republicans approved the four-year redistricting plan in a party-line 55-36 vote on November 18, a stark partisan vote following the same before the Ohio Senate on November 17. That vote without support from at least some of each party prevented the maps from lasting 10 years under the 2018 constitutional amendment that promotes support from both Republicans and Democrats.
DeWine took exception to Democrats’ complaints the new congressional districts violated the new redistricting requirements, which include attempting to avoid splitting counties, cities and townships.
“When compared to the other proposals offered from House and Senate caucuses, both Republicans and Democrats, the map in (Senate Bill) 258 makes the most progress to produce a fair, compact and competitive map,” DeWine said in a news release announcing his signature to approve the bill.
He noted the approved map has fewer county splits and city splits than competing proposals as well as the current map, citing Lucas County – anchored by Toledo – and Stark County – anchored by Canton – as well as the Mahoning Valley anchored by Youngstown remaining whole within single congressional districts for the first time in decades.
He also noted the cities of Akron, Cincinnati, Dayton and Cleveland are not divided for the first time since the 1840s.
DeWine contends seven of Ohio’s 15 districts are now competitive.
Jenkins disagreed, particularly when it comes to urban areas.
“In urban areas of southwest and northeast Ohio, for example, the map unduly splits counties and no other discernable reason other than minimizing Democratic voting power,” the press release said. “These district lines recklessly crack and pack communities of color, diluting their voting power.”
The GOP’s map for Ohio House and Ohio Senate, which also did not get bipartisan support, remains before the court, which will hear oral arguments on three legal challenges to the General Assembly map during a hearing scheduled for December 8.
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Brian R. Ball is a veteran Columbus journalist who writes for The Ohio Star and Star News Network. Send him news tips to [email protected]